Bill to fund new Hilo flight center deferred


A State senate bill looking for funds for a proposed flight-training center at Hilo International Airport was deferred last week.

The State House of Representatives passed SB 3092 earlier this month, but the measure did not make it out of conference committees last week.

The bill did not include a funding amount, but an earlier version of the measure asked for $450,000 for fiscal year 2014-15. Supporters of SB 3092 were hoping that the legislature would have decided a final appropriation amount and the effective date before the end of this year’s legislative session, scheduled for May 1.

Last year, $100,000 was appropriated to begin the first steps into launching the Hilo International Flight Training Center, which would also create a Baccalaureate of Science in Aeronautical Science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and serve Hawaii Community College students, as well.

UH-Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney used the funds to hire aviation program expert Ray Bédard, of Prescott, Ariz.

Bédard said he was surprised to hear the news.

“Well, I thought we were very, very confident,” he said. “Something happened and I don’t know because it happened behind closed doors. Right now, the primary source of funding has dried up and we need to find something else.”

Jerry Chang, UH-Hilo’s director of university relations, said the program didn’t get funded but HB 1700, relating to the state budget, provides half-a-million dollars for a capitol improvement project for the renovation of the old Hilo airport and that money may be put towards the program.

“We’ll continue to do the study to make this thing happen even without the funding,” he said. “We’ll use the funds for improving the old airport and will look for other money to continue the program and try again next year.”

According to a report summary, UH-Hilo could theoretically launch the program in August 2015 with 25 students, with training following three tracks:

- Fixed wing professional pilots.

- Fixed wing flight education pilots.

- And remotely piloted aircraft systems, or drones.

The degree would require eight semesters and students could complete them within 2.5 years.

Flight revenue generated from each student was estimated to be $13,923, with the school operating at a more than $200,000 loss its first year.

Bédard estimates the school could be bringing in more than $1.6 million in revenue by the 2019-2020 academic year.

According to Bédard’s report, HCC could begin its Associate Degree in Applied Science in helicopter operations with 10 students in the spring of 2016. The degree would require five semesters of classes, totalling 1.5 years of study.

Flight revenue of $13,934 would be generated per student at HCC, with the program losing $62,000 its first year. From there, revenue would grow to $1,455,000 by the 2019-2020 academic year.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com